Last season the Southwestern A was a quagmire of battles day-in, day-out, as all six teams made noise in one way shape or form.
If it wasn’t last-place Corvallis pulling off upsets at the Divisional tournament, it was Hamilton and Stevensville bringing plenty of firepower out of the Bitteroot.
Yet in the end it was Butte Central that led the way with a fourth-place finish at the Class A state finals last season and they enter the new season, along with local rivals Anaconda and Dillon, with plenty of high and realistic expectations.
Butte Central ended the last campaign with an 18-6 record and a state finals run that was thwarted by two losses to a resurgent Browning squad. They did leave the campaign with Southwestern A Divisional champions’ hardware and a co-conference title in regular season play.
Now they have to rebuild without seven seniors and five starters who are no longer with the Maroons.
But with only four seniors and a remaining roster consisting of sophomores and freshmen, head coach Meg Murphy, in her seventh year in her second stint as the Central leader, is very optimistic with what she has to work with.
“In my opinion it is really exciting with a lot of younger kids and four seniors that have worked hard all summer,” Murphy said. “I give the seniors a lot of credit and (they) have done everything I have asked them to do. They have stepped in as leaders. These young kids are a great group with a lot of potential but potential doesn’t win a lot of games. They are working hard and learning a lot. They have gotten better and the biggest thing is seeing the improvement each day.”
McCurdy expects anyone on the roster, younger to older, to work hard for run on the court and to expect to give max effort.
“We’re all going to have to play each role and have to do everything,” McCurdy said. “We know our roles. We just have to toughen up. We have people fighting for places. There are kids who want to work and kids who don’t want to work. The ones who want to work will be on the floor busting their butts for us.”
Stepping into the top point guard role, Paffhausen is optimistic that the young team will get the job done. She is also confident in her ability to run the show with the ball in her hands for a majority of minutes.
“We have a lot of talent and we have a lot of younger girls who are going to help us,” Paffhausen said. “I have a big role this year and it’s going to be different with me now starting at point guard. I am going to have to be a leader out there. It’s a lot of work, but the team knows what’s going on.”
Sophomore Teresa Piazzola believes she and her younger classmates are prepared to play and having some experience playing with the older girls last year helped.
“We know that we have to step up to make it work,” Piazzola said. “All of us have played JV together so we are familiar with each other. If you are prepared for this in your mind you can do anything.”
Murphy knows that the learning curve with a younger roster is much higher a lot of times than with a more veteran club, yet, realizes the curve could lead to some bumps in the road.
“We are going to take some lumps and bruises early in the season and we know that, but we will get better every game,” Murphy said. “That’s a positive thing. We might take some lumps, but we will throw some lumps too and that’s exciting, especially with a group of young kids.”
Anaconda gets physical
The Anaconda Copperheads played competitive ball for most of the past season and finished 8-13, but not before showing some signs that the best is yet to come.
Third-year head coach Jessica Shanafelt brings back three key seniors in, Taylor Flynn, Kiernan Gallagher, and arguably the Southwestern A’s best point guard for two years now, Courtney Moodry.
“We will be a quick team, but lack in height,” Shanafelt said. “I am looking forward to the talent coming together and seeing what we can accomplish as a team out on the court. We are quick on our feet and returning a lot of players from last year.”
With a lack of height, the Copperheads are going to have to get physical and utilize their obvious quickness. Knowing that Anaconda girls are as tough as they come, the physical side of things shouldn’t be too difficult.
“I am the tallest player on the team and I’m 5 feet 6 inches,” Flynn said. “It will be a lot of fast breaks, a lot of running because we are not as big as anyone else. Every day in practice we battle with each other and do everything within the rules of basketball to make each other better. We do that every single day, put the beat-down on each other once in a while and get physical with each other. I don’t think any of our players are afraid to go against teams that are bigger than us.”
On the court the team is experimenting with some new offensive looks.
“Right now we are running all new plays and a bunch of motion stuff,” Moodry said. “We are switching stuff up right now and it looks like we have a lot more open play things. We will look inside to Taylor and the offense we have going now should work for us if we stay calm, execute our passes, and don’t panic. As point guard I am going to look for mismatches and run the play where we have more options. I have to read it and we go from there. I know what our players can do with the ball.”
Many of the Anaconda players come in following an emotional and narrow loss at the volleyball divisionals that kept them from going to state.
“I think we’ve always gone into a season analyzing the other teams thinking we could be pretty good,” Flynn said. “We came into basketball coming off of a volleyball season where we had a tough loss and we just missed state. Coach told us she knew we didn’t want to have that feeling again and we are motivated to never feel that disappointment of getting so close to state and not making it.”
It won’t be because of a lack of heart even if they are a diminutive team.
“Physically I think we are going to be good, we have done a lot of stuff with coach Shanafelt, endurance stuff, weight lifting stuff,” Moodry said. “You can see a big change in the physical growth with a lot of the players. We will be there. It comes down to nothing put getting after it and being physical because we are short.”
Shanafelt believes Hamilton is the team to beat in league play, but sees her girls, Butte Central, and Dillon battling for the second through fourth spots with only the top two going to state.
Dillon competes hard
Speaking of Dillon, the Beavers come in off of a 10-10 campaign and signs that the future could look very bright despite returning only one senior this year.
But he for sure has talented players like senior Courtney Linder coming back as well as grizzled veterans in Cierra Lamey, Audrey Schurg and Rachael Nye. One key element to the team’s success will be the recovery of super sophomore Alex Rouse who is fighting hard to come back from a knee injury. Rouse came on strong in the second half of last season and finished out the year as arguably one of the top five players in league play.
“We have only been practicing a short time but I like how our team is simply playing hard on a daily basis,” fifth year head coach Gabe Walker said. “We have a long way to go but we are proud of the effort we are getting and willingness of our girls to learn. I like our team chemistry, the girls genuinely care for their teammates but they are not afraid to compete with them in practice.”
One thing that hurt the Beavers last year was their inability to finish strong offensive play with consistent shooting. That lack of success in scoring let down their ability to run Walker’s schemes and now it just comes down to attitude.
“We are pretty confident and know we believe in each other to take the right shot and make it,” Linder said. “We worked a lot in the summer and are ready to show what we got. It might have been a combination of a few things and hard to say what was the one thing that caused us to not shoot well at times. For each person it may have been something a little different, some needing to work, some not having a lot of game. It was hard to pinpoint the specific.”
Walker also believes the Beavers have other areas to address.
“Our concerns, we think, are like any other team: can we play consistent tough defense without fouling?” he said rhetorically. “Can be block out and rebound? Can we take care of the ball and get good shots? Can we compete in a tough conference? We feel like these things need to be very good to compete in this league.”
To make the proper steps, Walker is taking a pragmatic approach.
“Overall, right now we are just trying to keep things simple, play hard, enjoy the journey of being on a team, and compete as hard as we can,” Walker said. “As far as style of play goes, it is still early and we are simple trying to be fundamental at both ends of the court, get in condition to play hard for 32 minutes. We feel like our style will emerge as the season progresses.”
A Rouse return could help, but Linder believes she and the rest of the Beaverhead County girls are ready to take care of the business regardless.
“Alex is a great player and teammate and has been working hard to come back,” Linder said. “It’s hard to lose a leader out there and she was one even as a freshman. People have to step up and the players are doing great. We have a good mesh of girls that work great together. If we get her back that would be awesome but we just want her to get her knee all healed up…that’s the main thing.”
BUTTE CENTRAL MAROONS
Head Coach: Meg Murphy (seventh year this tenure, 15th season total at Butte Central)
2012-13 Overall Record: 18-6
2012-13 Conference Record: 9-1 in Southwestern A
2012-13 Postseason: 4th place Class A State Finish
ROSTER as of Dec. 7 (subject to change): SENIORS - Chandra McCurdy, Shelby Paffhausen, Rylee Green, and Courtney Thomas; SOPHOMORES - Shawnee Hjelt, Sierra Pica, Teresa Piazzola, Ryan Trudnowski, Kate Ossello, Lacey McGree, Aidan Dennehy, and McKenzie Gallagher; FRESHMAN - Mollie Peoples and Emily St. John, Taylor Wahl.
Head Coach: Jessica Shanafelt (third year)
2012-13 Overall Record: 8-13
2012-13 Conference Record: 4-6 in Southwestern A
2012-13 Postseason: None
ROSTER as of Dec. 7: SENIORS - Taylor Flynn, Kiernan Gallagher and Courtney Moodry; JUNIORS - Tyler Baustadt, Khali Knadler and Lacee Moodry; SOPHOMORES - Molly Huber
Head Coach: Gabe Walker (fifth year)
2012-13 Overall Record: 10-10
2012-13 Conference Record: 4-6 in Southwestern A
2012-13 Postseason: None
ROSTER as of Dec. 7: SENIOR - Courtney Linder; JUNIORS - Holly Andersen, Shelby Kluesner, Cierra Lamey, Brandi Lovaas, Jordan Peterson, and Audrey Schurg; SOPHOMORES - Rachael Nye, Alex Rouse and Nicole Thomspson; FRESHMEN - Kylie Christiansen and Kathleeen Tatarka
FROM HOMETOWN PRIDE
By Charles Irwin
Don’t sleep on this team. They lost some talent but they bring some key players back. A few kids will step in into the limelight this season, specifically Dalayna Christenson. The 6-foot senior center is one of the best rebounders and post defenders in the state. She’ll team with sophomore Abbie Lohoff to provide a great 1-2 punch in the post. The only other senior on this year’s squad is 5-foot-5 Lexi Lewis, who will contribute her skills in the passing game, and will be expected to lock down the perimeter against other Eastern A guards. Junior Allie McGrath will lead the attack as coach Amber Griffith and the 2014 class look to defend their state title.
The 2013-2014 Lady Rams have an abundance of talent in the projected starting five. They will return all but two players from last year’s state tournament run. What could decide the fate of the Rams’ season is the development of the girls coming off the bench. If the reserves are able to make an impact this year, the Rams will be a tough out in March. Seniors Justyn Juhl and Allie Lucas will spearhead the Central attack. Joining the ranks is senior guard Erika Kuehn, who has the ability to be one of the better defenders in the Eastern A. Add sophomore speedster Mariah Whittman and you arguably have the best backcourt in Class A. Opposing coaches will have to protect their point guards against the speed and talent of Central’s attacking style. Expect these ladies to be motivated after last year’s heartbreaking second-place finish at state.